Miranda v. Arizona
384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed.2d 694 (1966)

  • Miranda was arrested on suspicion of rape. While in police custody he was interrogated without a lawyer and signed a written confession.
    • The signed confession had a clause saying that Miranda knew the evidence could be used against him, but later testified he was only told this after he had already verbally confessed.
  • The Trial Court convicted Miranda. He appealed.
    • The only evidence the prosecution presented was Miranda’s confession.
  • The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Miranda appealed.
    • The Arizona Supreme Court relied on the fact that Miranda had not asked to see a lawyer, and then found he therefore implicitly waived his right.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and threw out the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the confession was inadmissible since it was a violation of the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
      • The Court didn’t accuse the police of forcing Miranda to confess, but that the police just implied that Miranda couldn’t say ‘no’ to their questions. Miranda did not understand Constitutional law well enough to know that he had a “right to remain silent.”
    • The Court found that the confession was inadmissible since it was a violation of the 6th Amendment right of due process because there was no attorney present.
      • The Court didn’t accuse the police of withholding a lawyer, they just didn’t mention to Miranda that had a right to speak to one and get legal advice. Miranda did not understand Constitutional law well enough to know that he had a “right to an attorney.”
  • In a dissent it was argued that if the accused actually knew what their rights were, they would always assert them, and that would be too big a burden on law enforcement. Instead, the courts should consider each interrogation on a case-by-case basis to determine if there is evidence of coercion.
    • Compare to Schneckloth v. Bustamonte (412 U.S. 218 (1973)), which held that the police do not have to warn someone that they can say ‘no’ to a consent search. In that case, the majority agreed with the dissent here, that having everyone assert their Constitutional rights would make it difficult for the police to solve crimes.
  • Basically in this case, the Court said that if you don’t know your Constitutional rights, you can’t assert them. But most people don’t know what their rights are. The police must inform a person of their rights so that they have a reasonable chance of being able to assert them.
    • “The prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogations of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.”
    • The Court noted that an interrogation room is inherently coercive, so unless procedural safeguards are in place it is a pretty good bet that the confession was coerced.
  • Prior to this decision, the courts could still toss out confessions based on the specific facts of the case, but the Court wanted to establish a bright line procedural safeguard instead of having to deal with each case individually.
    • It was hard to prove that exactly went on inside the interrogation room (prior to videotape), and a lot of police interrogation manuals suggested that they were using very harsh tactics.
      • See Brown v. Mississippi (297 U.S. 278 (1932)).
  • Interestingly, there is still a voluntariness test under Miranda. If the interrogation room is inherently coercive, it is possible for a suspect to voluntarily waive their rights? Isn’t the waiver itself untrustworthy because it could be coerced?
    • The Court said that a waiver must be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, and the burden is on the State to prove that it was.
    • Is the fact that suspects waive their rights and confess way more often than they assert their rights, evidence that there must be some coercion?
  • Why didn’t the Court go further and say that an attorney must be present?
    • Some say that the Court was worried that more people would assert their Constitutional rights, and the police require people to be dumb in order to get convictions.
    • Since a lot of people waive their rights and confess even though it is a horrible idea, perhaps the court was correct.
  • Btw, after remand, the prosecutor went out and got some witnesses and Miranda was convicted. After he got out of jail he was killed in a bar fight. Ironically, the police arrested a suspect, who exercised his right to remain silent, and the case was never solved.